19 caught for having illegal pets in 2012

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 15 Jul 13;

SINGAPORE: Pythons and crocodiles are some of the illegal pets authorities have seized from Singapore homes in the past 10 years.

In 2012, 19 people were caught having illegal wild animals, the highest since 2006. The number for the first half of 2013 is 10.

Experts said these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.

Two albino hedgehogs and two sugar gliders were selling on a local website for S$2,650 in total.

The hedgehogs were found covered in faeces and the gliders were kept in tiny food containers. The animals became some of the latest wildlife seizures by Singapore authorities.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it acted on a tip-off, and the man hawking the animals online is assisting with investigations.

The animals have been sent to the Wildlife Reserves Singapore for care and custody.

Louis Ng, executive director of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, said: "Pretty appalling conditions that these animals are housed in. Bear in mind that these are exotic species, so they were probably smuggled into Singapore in probably even more appalling conditions."

Sting operations in recent years have uncovered endangered animals like ball pythons, star tortoises, and even slow lorises available on the market.

While such operations work to put off illegal sellers for a while, some said a more preventive strategy is needed to stop illegal wildlife from coming into Singapore in the first place.

First, the buying has to stop, said Mr Ng.

He said: "If people buy them, people will try to smuggle them into Singapore because there're profits to be made.

"Second is to have sniffer dogs at our border checkpoints that can sniff out wildlife, they can sniff out animal parts, like tiger parts, bear parts, so that there is a very effective deterrent."

According to wildlife trade monitor TRAFFIC, one dog and its handler can carry out a relatively thorough search of passengers and baggage for wildlife contraband in the same time it would take 36 customs officers to perform a cursory examination.

European countries like Germany, the Czech Republic, and the UK are already using wildlife sniffer dogs at their airports.

China began training its first wildlife sniffers - three Labradors - in June.

Authorities investigated 13 cases of online sales of illegal wildlife or their parts like python bone and tiger skin in Singapore between 2010 and 2012.

But the bigger problem, said Acting Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Dr Chris Shepherd, is what comes in and passes through the country.

In January, Singapore customs intercepted 1.8 tonnes of illegal ivory in transit. It had been declared as waste paper.

AVA statistics show over the past ten years, there were about 24 such seizures of illegal wildlife or their parts and products every year on average.

Dr Shepherd said: "Here in Southeast Asia we're just scratching the surface. The trade here is enormous. Wildlife sold in Singapore, we're not sure what the levels are, but it's definitely happening and I think those seizures reflect a very tiny percentage of it. Singapore is in a great position to really be a leader in Asia in tackling the illegal trade for a number of reasons. One, there are resources available, or that could be made available to tackle this trade.”

The country's small size and efficiency also give it a good opportunity to knock out major illegal wildlife trade routes in the region, Dr Shepherd added.

Import and export opportunities like airports and checkpoints are limited in Singapore, Dr Shepherd said, which means less ground to cover in terms of enforcement, compared to neighbouring giants like Myanmar and Thailand.

- CNA/xq